History is repeating itself so far at Luhmühlen, where 26-year-old Julien Despontin and Waldano 36 hold the lead in the CCI4* after the first day of dressage, just as the Belgian combination did last year. Their score of 40.2 has them narrowly sitting in first place over Emma Dougall and Belcam Bear.
“He was a little tense at first, which is why I rode the canter section of the test a little more carefully than I would have liked,” Julien said. “However, the trot and walk was much improved compared to last year’s test, and the extended trot was very strong. Waldano is a great horse with a big personality.”
A former mount for Andreas Ostholt, Waldano 36 and Julien started their international career together, which he said makes sitting in first place all the more meaningful. “We have come a long way. When I first had Waldano, we were both still a little green and we have grown in this sport as a team.”
Julien recaps Waldano’s test:
Australia’s Emma Dougall and Belcam Bear sit second in the CCI4* on 40.6. “There were a few minor insecurities in our test today. But he is a real sweetheart and a saint. Even though the rein back and a couple of the flying changes weren’t perfect, he was focused on his job throughout. Now I am looking forward to Saturday, as he is a brilliant, straight and bold cross country horse.”
Bill Levett and Improvise are also contributing to a strong Aussie performance at Luhmühlen thus far, sitting third on 45.5. Andrew Nicholson also had a strong test today in his first CCI4* back since his accident at Gatcombe last year, scoring 46.3 to sit in fifth place with Qwanza.
The first half of the 30-horse CCI4* field went today, and North America’s sole representatives Boyd Martin and Crackerjack will do their test tomorrow at 2:20 p.m. local time/8:20 a.m. EST. You can watch their test live on FEI TV.
We have two Canadians in the larger CIC3* division, where combinations representing 12 different nations are making their final bid for Olympic selection. We are just 50 days away from the start of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and the pressure is on to produce one last strong performance before teams are named.
Rebecca Howard and Riddle Master are currently sitting seventh on 50.1 for Canada after the first day of dressage. The 15-year-old Canadian Sport Horse gelding owned by Blithe Hill Farm is coming off a strong sixth place finish in the CIC3* at Chatsworth last month. Kathryn Robinson and Let It Bee will do their test tomorrow at 11:57 a.m. local time, 5:57 a.m. EST.
Australia also had a good day in the CIC3*, as Andrew Hoy and Cheeky Calimbo scored 35.3 to take an impressive lead as the only pair to crack the 30s so far. “He did a wonderful job today. We have a very special bond which allows me to bring out the best in him. His canter work is exceptional, and his presence makes him truly unique. He is just a fabulous ride and I am very happy with today’s performance.”
Germany’s Stephanie Böhe sits in second in the CIC3* on 41.7 with Haytom, a 14-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Heraldik xx. “Haytom behaved impeccably and didn’t put a foot wrong, I am super proud. It’s our first time here in Luhmühlen — the arena and the atmosphere are amazing,” she said.
“Haytom was bred here by Tine Dietrich and he clearly wanted to present his owner Insa Horstmann a special birthday treat with such a brilliant performance. I have only been riding him since 2014, which was originally supposed to cover for maternity leave. Then things were going really well with us, and I was allowed to keep his ride until he eventually retires from eventing.”
The riders’ first impressions of Capt. Mark Phillips’ cross country indicate this won’t be a dressage show. Tim Price commented on the CCI4* track: “It’s a good course but stronger and more demanding than last year. It puts pressure on the rider — you really need to know your lines and speed in the combinations. The time seems a little tight.”
Ingrid Klimke also weighed in on the CIC3*: “The three-star course is brilliant. It’s certainly difficult enough, however fair and beautifully built; especially the water jumps are inviting and encouraging even for less experienced horses. The corners and skinny jumps need accuracy and concentration from both riders and horses.”
Click here for a preview of the course, and stay tuned for much more from Luhmühlen. The FEI TV broadcast of CCI4* dressage starts tomorrow at 8 a.m. EST. You can watch live at this link. Go Eventing.